Putting 17 people at risk of losing their jobs and denying students the opportunity to learn valuable skills in the arts and social sciences is far too high a price to pay for the government to continue its failing experiment in market-based approaches to tertiary education, the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) said today after Waikato University proposed yet another shake up of its Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
In a proposal to staff, Acting Dean, Professor Allison Kirkman, outlined plans to restructure the Faculty resulting in 17 job losses. Changes also mean that students will no longer be able to study programmes dedicated to Women’s and Gender Studies, Labour Studies and Religious studies. Courses including history, political science, linguistics, music and geography also face significant staffing cuts.
Explaining the rationale behind the changes at a meeting with the TEU, senior management said the university was no longer willing to cross-subsidise smaller subject departments, despite posting an overall surplus last year. The future viability of all subjects, therefore, comes down to changing market demand, rather than the university as a whole ensuring the provision of a broad range of subjects that would give students in the region access to a variety of learning opportunities. This sort of market-driven approach to tertiary education threatens the long-term viability of a wide range of subjects, and is exactly what Tertiary Education Minister Paul Goldsmith has proposed in a new law recently introduced to Parliament.
Lars Brabyn, co-president of the TEU branch at Waikato University and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Science said:
“Our members are understandably worried about these proposals. Losing 17 of our colleagues will have a huge impact on teaching and we are really concerned about what it means for the long-term viability of arts and social science subjects at Waikato University.
“We recognise this is only a proposal, but clearly this is the direction senior management wants the university to head in and we will be doing everything we can to explain the detrimental impact it will have, not only on staff but on future generations of students too. Now more than ever we need graduates of the arts and social sciences with questioning and curious minds. If these proposals go through it will be increasingly unlikely that these minds will come from Waikato.”
Sandra Grey, TEU national president, said:
“Senior management’s proposal to cut 17 jobs appears to be based on a rationale of turning the Faculty of Arts and Social Science into a business, with each subject thought of as a separate product that must contribute to overall profitability or be shelved. For a university to post a surplus one year and cut 17 jobs the next, proves that the funding model introduced under National is all wrong.
“Sadly these changes fit neatly into the current National government’s long-term plan to devalue the social sciences and humanities; turning education into a commodity a student should purchase in order to get a job, rather an opportunity to develop a broad understanding of the world we live in and the skills needed to change it. It is hugely disappointing that 17 people’s livelihoods will be another price we are forced to pay.”